The study into the role that “significant adults” play in improving the lives of young offenders, argues that mentoring schemes provide crucial support for vulnerable children and young people.
The report, called She’s a Legend – a reference to one young person’s description of her mentor – includes the views of 20 young people and 22 adult mentors.
It says adult mentors help to build the confidence of young offenders, who are more likely to have experience of family breakdown, mental health problems, domestic violence and drug and alcohol problems.
Mairéad McCafferty, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, said young people in contact with the justice system need support to change their lives.
She argued that mentoring services must be provided with “sustainable, long-term statutory funding, particularly in times of austerity and as cuts are being made to budgets”.
“We have to look beyond a young person’s behaviour to examine the circumstances that contributed to their offending and support them to make more positive decisions,” she said.
“It is clear that one significant adult in a young person’s life can make a real difference.”
“It is vital that organisations, which provide children and young people with one-to-one support, are given sustainable, long-term funding to enable them to deliver this, through a child-centred and community based approach.”
McCafferty added that the legacy of the troubles in Northern Ireland means that “violence continues to play a major role in many children and young people’s lives”.
“As a result they struggle in education and training, are often excluded from the job market, and find it difficult to develop and sustain positive relationships with adults and peers,” she warned.
The research was carried out by Queen’s University, Belfast, and the University of Ulster.
Report co-author, Dr Linda Moore, said: “One young person explained how violence in their home had influenced their behaviour outside home, made it difficult for them to confide in and trust adults and contributed to them getting into conflict with the law.”
“In such cases, where a young person may have no-one to turn to, a significant adult is vital in encouraging mutual trust and respect and supporting them in many ways.”